Industrial Placement blog in 4 parts with Guildford Environmental Forum by Katherien Murphy, MSc graduate.
Beginning of Placement with GEF – 3rd March
I have started a placement with Guildford Environmental Forum (GEF), working with them to increase their engagement with the local Guildford population in order to progress sustainability and support the rapid reduction of carbon emissions across the Guildford borough by 2030.
The project is in partnership with and facilitated by Surrey Living Labs (SLL), who enable collaboration between students, academics, staff, community partners and other stakeholders to apply current research and innovation to address real-world issues, using the university and surrounding communities as a testbed. The living labs approach is an excellent approach for research to generate real impacts, and SLL have provided some modest funding in order to facilitate the project producing useful outcomes for GEF.
So far, in order to increase engagement with local residents, GEF have produced a presentation that highlights the risks posed by climate change to the UK and more locally for Guildford. They have organised for over 20 community groups across Guildford to host the presentations up until May 2020, with both GEF members and local public audiences invited. Altogether, the meetings have the potential to reach over 1,000 Guildford residents, a cohort that significantly exceeds the size of the GEF membership in order to amplify the impact of the presentation.
I am aware of the value local action can bring to progressing climate action though the teachings throughout my MSc course. Throughout, Elinor Ostrom’s theory of Polycentric Governance has been described, which proposes a blend of different scales (national/local), networks, mechanisms, and actors to resolve climate related problems. GEF are well positioned to engage with local actors, though the presentation audiences and community group, but also as a group that has a significant network across Guildford. They have well established relationships with other local environmental groups, such as Guildford Extinction Rebellion and Rosamund Community Gardens, but notably, have strong links to local authorities, with some of the GEF board sitting on the Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC’s) Climate Crisis and Innovation Board which gives the potential to offer expertise and advise of specific climate related topics at local council level.
My role within the project focuses around social research. GEF are interested to understand and gain insight into how attendees perceive the risks of climate change to them and the local area after listening to their presentations. With a better understanding of how the presentation has impacted residents, they hope to offer specific climate actions and consider other climate initiatives that suit the community, with hopes that the specificity will increase engagement.
Climate Engagement Presentations – 18th March
So, first thing first, I need to attend some of the presentations! Experiencing them first-hand is a great way to become familiar with the presentation content and get a feel for the audience response. They have already been scheduled, so I make sure to add them all to my diary and look forward to the first one.
And how pleasantly promising the presentations prove to be! Each presentation varies in attendance numbers, but the one I attended first of all stands out in particular, with over 100 attendees. People were queuing for a space and more than filled the room at the Guildford Institute, with guests happy to stand around the edges for the chance to hear the presentation. This presentation even garnered media attention from local TV station ‘Thats TV South East’, helping to raise awareness and increase the coverage of the issue local to Guildford – fantastic!
At all of the presentations though, I am continually impressed with the engagement from the audiences, who all have questions and comments related to the presentation content.
I am sure such audience engagement is directly related to the high calibre of the presentations. GEF member Henrietta Stock, who has trained at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership programme and so can speak expertly on the subject, delivers presentations on the climate crisis in an expertly, informed way. A particular strength to the presentations is the range of climate change risks explored, at a global scale but also specifically at a more local level with regards to Guildford scale. This is especially crucial to GEF’s aim of driving climate action within Guildford, since existing literature shows that understanding a risk at a local level is more effective at driving behavioural change.
The questionnaire provided to attendees after the presentation makes a good start on gathering information on how the presentation was received, but would benefit from a more defined focus. Discussing my thoughts with Adrian and Matthew, we have agreed that the specific focus of the questionnaire should reflect the overall aims of the project, and gather insight into the perceived risks from.
With the new focus, I have been working on a revised version of the questionnaire, with questions design to provide relevant insight. I am also conscious of the circumstance in which the responders will be completing it: in a short 5 minutes after an hour long presentation, with limited space and time. Accordingly, the questionnaire fits on to 2 pages, with multiple choice rather than long answer questions (which is easier for responders and allows ease in comparison of results, win win!) and an aversion to highly specialised language.
Importantly, it is crucial that the questionnaire gathers approval from the university’s Ethical Review Committee. It has been sent off and once I hear back from them, the questionnaire should be good to go!
COVID Project refocus – 22nd May
Well, things have taken a slightly different direction since the questionnaire was finalised!
Around the time the original questionnaire (as we now call it!) was finalised, the world quickly ground to a halt as the COVID pandemic hit. With social distancing measure introduced in an effort to control the spread of the virus, it quickly became apparent that the presentations were no longer feasible and so they have been cancelled and rescheduled for Autumn/Winter 2020.
Undeterred, GEF and I remain committed to progressing sustainability within Guildford. The new circumstances COVID presents will of course change routes of engagement and even ideas for action, but the opportunity to drive sustainability still exists.
In some ways, the COVID circumstances increase the significance of GEF action. COVID, understandably, must become a priority for everyone from decision makers to individuals. But, this risks climate change and actions to progress it falling in priority, with global trend analysis has observing such movements: the ‘climate emergency’ was the strongest common global value in the months preceding the pandemic but afterwards, COVID-19 is regarded as the most important issue faced. Nevertheless, the climate emergency persists and momentum must be kept to ensure progress is made.
It could also be contended that the relationship between GEF and GBC could evolve in response to COVID. While GBC have demonstrated climate positive behaviour in the past, with the declaration of a climate emergency and progress towards climate positive initiatives achieved, COVID brings with it new pressures that could threaten such advances. For example, COVID has put increasing pressure on GBC’s already strained budgets, risking funding being diverted away from climate-related. If GEF can gather information during this crisis into the climate regard that persists amongst local constituents and relay such concerns, they can have an active role in ensuring it remains a priority within local authority decisions.
In light of this, a new focus for the project has been agreed, that includes the effects of COVID. It wouldn’t be sensible to continue with research that ignores COVID, as it will have a large and sustained bearing on conclusions made. A global pandemic is too big a situation to ignore!
The pre-COVID focus of the project, of how climate change risks are perceived and the implications this has on how GEF could drive action in the community, are still relevant and of interest, so haven’t be totally abandoned with the shift in focus. Now though, I will assess how GEF members perceive the risks of climate change in comparison and relation to the risks posed by COVID. Insight into how COVID has impacts GEF members with should allow GEF to ensure their effort to drive sustainability is positively received once their presentations are able resume.
Importantly too, the new research focus is achievable within the now remote nature of the placement with GEF. A questionnaire for GEF respondents remains a practical and suitable
route to gather insight, but a entirely new questionnaire must be designed to incorporates the new project focus and circumstances we find ourselves in.
Questionnaire – 10th June
In order to meet the demands from the new focus of the project, it’s important to gain a better comprehension of how climate action should be addressed in the wake of a crisis. Of course, the COVID pandemic is unique in the type and scale of that disruption it has caused, but learnings from existing literature remain relevant. The three main findings that guided the questionnaire design are introduced below.
1. The ‘finite pool of worry’ theory suggests that individuals have a limited capacity for worry: as worry increases about one type of risk, concern about other risks may lessen. More attention and greater prioritisation is given to near-tern threats that loom larger than long-term threats. In accordance, it is reasonable to assume that the short-term, acute risks to human health posed by COVID-19 could be prioritised over the long-term chronic risks posed by climate change.
2. Tangible actions that build personal efficacy are consistently regarded as a crucial motivating reason for climate-aware behaviour. However, with collective efficacy, where individuals act in coordination with others by pooling their resources for common goals are regarded to be most suitable to improving climate change goals.
3. Individuals already demonstrating climate considerate behaviors, such those within GEF already being a member of a environmental group, engage more with campaigns that actively make connections to societal concerns by promoting a holistic view of lower-carbon futures, rather than a ’to-do’ list of actionable behavior changes.
Significantly, the personal impact of how a crisis is received dictates how and why individuals engage with climate communication. Therefore, a better understanding of the specific impacts COVID has had for GEF members, will allow the conclusions from existing literature mentioned above to be made more specific to the COVID crisis.
Asking GEF members to complete the questionnaire in their own time opposed to a quick 5 minutes at the end of a presentation, has its merits and drawbacks . On one hand, the two page limit from before is less important, so more questions that give greater depth can be asked – still in primarily multiple choice form so as to easily compare the answers of course! But on the other hand, no captive audience at the end of the presentations means that response rates are more unpredictable.
To overcome such challenge, we have agree on a range of initiatives to increase engagement with the questionnaire. Firstly, the questionnaire will be distributed in conjunction with the regular GEF newsletter, so as not to be discarded as junk. Secondly, it will be available in both physical and electronical format, for members to choose their preferred response route. Thirdly, a series of scheduled reminders to be distributed through social media posts have been organised. And lastly, each response will be entered into a
raffle to win one of 10 prizes. Some of the SLL funding will be used to offer 5 x ‘Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction’ and 5 x ‘No One is Too Small to Make a Difference’ as small incentives for the completion of the questionnaire.
Outcome and Future Search – 7th July
The engagement initiatives seems to have worked, with a total of 45 response received! The sharing of the questionnaire on twitter generated some non-GEF responses, which once filtered out, left 33 GEF responses and some key learnings to be deduced…
Firstly, results emerged that came as no surprise for a climate conscious group: between 100% – 97% of respondents acknowledged the scientific consensus on the anthropogenic influence to climate change and that climate change needs to addressed with high-extremely high urgency. GEF members are also a group already demonstrating climate responsible actions, such a reduced meat consumption, air travel, central heating usage and increased usage of public transport. While these results aren’t a surprise, such data remain useful to affirm assumptions on the groups climate regard, which is fundamental for how well further GEF climate directions could be received.
Considering the learnings from the infinite pool of worry, it is reassuring that climate change remains that most significant perceived threat to the UK, with 97% high-extremely worried about the impacts of climate change. These results, coupled with 100% of respondents considering climate change to be at least as serious a risk as COVID and 97% supporting a green recovery, suggest that the group are ready to support GEF initiatives to increase sustainability in Guildford in the wake of COVID.
Crucially, insight in to areas GEF could concentrate their work has been gathered. Actions that focus around community involvement, tree initiatives, protection from heat stresses and climate protests the actions GEF actions are most receptive to. Combing such insight with existing literature that suggests actions should be provided within context rather than a ‘to-do’ list, make the resumption of the climate presentations a prime opportunity to deliver such guidance. The presentations already consider the effect of climate change to Guildford, but including actions focused around the above categories to improve the effects of climate change will likely increase the impact of such messaging.
Additional insight has been gathered on the expectation GEF members have for cohesive, collaborative effort to for a green recovery after COVID– with 60% acknowledging that the responsibility for protecting our environment should be shared equally between public, business, local authority and governmental actions. The presentations can help garner the public action, but GEF is especially well placed with local authority connections to guide and demonstrate action at the local authority level. It could also be that the actions suggested throughout the presentations can be extrapolated to guide local authority action/initiatives.
Nonetheless, COVID remains a threat and the risk of a second peak threatens the extension and reintroduction of social distancing measures – which could see further postponement of the presentations. Therefore, relying solely on the presentations to communicate the
suggestions on climate action jeopardizes the actions from being delivered. So, a small project extension has been proposed, whereby a suite of downloadable resources based on the findings of the project will be developed, which will be available on the GEF website. They can be used to support presentations should be they be able to go ahead, or offered instead as a stand-alone resources until presentations can resume. Either way, GEF being able to offer climate advice based on greater insight to needs and expectations of their members in the wake of COVID is relevant to increasing sustainability across Guildford!